Motherless fourteen year-old Jonathan Starling discovers a picture of his mother along with strange notes and passages in his father's study after his father suffers another of his frequent "darkenings", coma-like states during which he is unresponsive. When Jonathan investigates the notes and finds a rare book that explains how to get to a place called Darkside, a strange girl named Marianne captures him in broad daylight. Everyone around them is oblivious to the commotion caused by his struggles, even though Marianne, with her pale skin and fluorescent hair, should be noticeable, as should be her two accomplices, one a short spastic man with a round head and the other a seven foot tall mute giant. Luckily, Jonathan is able to escape. After talking to his father's only friend, he discovers that his father has visited Darkside many times before and had been trying to get back there. He is given directions to find a man called Carnegie and he heads to the location described in the book. After "crossing over", he finds himself in a strange, dangerous world where evil threatens him at every turn.
This is a really good action story that also happens to be creepy and a little scary, too. Though it's easy to read, the descriptions really draw wonderfully detailed worlds of both Lightside London and Darkside. I kept thinking how great it would be as a graphic novel, but I think that was just because the words were so great. If it were made into a graphic novel or movie, it would be pretty gruesome, but as a novel, it's pretty approachable by (mature) readers 10 years old or older.
While I understand the appeal of series books, I have been trying to find more stand-alone books. I sometimes get frustrated by the non-ending when I finish reading a series book. It's not so bad if all the books are already available, but it's downright maddening if I have to wait a few months to find out what happens next. That being said, this book was very satisfying. Like the best series books, it had a conclusion that was strong enough to be an ending but it left enough threads untied to allow for a follow-up. I strongly recommend this book to kids who like action stories or horror stories.